WSU long snapper Lucas Gravelle has the most anonymous job on the field

PULLMAN – When it’s time for a pressure field goal in a Washington State football game, who do you watch -- the kicker? The holder? You might want to start watching the long snapper. For the Cougs, that is fourth-year junior Lucas Gravelle.

“It’s harder than people think, because one little slip of a finger can throw a snap the wrong way,” Gravelle said.

As the long snapper, Gravelle (6-0, 224) understands and relishes the pressure. He said the high-intensity situations can be “nerve-wracking,” but when it’s time to go snap a high pressure field goal, he’s ready.

“The nervousness kind of goes away, and you just run out there and be confident in what you practice, and execute the best you can,” he said.

When it comes to warming up for a field goal, don’t expect Powell and Gravelle to be chatting about the upcoming kick -- they treat each other like a pitcher in the middle of throwing a perfect game.

“While we’re warming up on the second and third down (before a kick) we don’t talk to each other at all,” he said. “After the kick, that’s when we go and talk about how it went, if something went wrong. But before, we both like to be in our own zone without putting extra pressure on each other.”

Simulating pressure kicks in practice has been a staple for special teams coach Eric Mele since he took over at WSU. However, Gravelle says it’s not as easy to simulate the pressure for him as a long snapper as it can be for the kicker.

“During the season, during the week, I don’t really think about too much pressure,” he said. “However, Fridays during walk throughs, those are more pressure mentally just because it’s the day before the game. And we just really have to be on point the day before the game.”

When Gravelle was in high school his freshman and sophomore years, he played “never leaving the field,” at running back, outside linebacker and snapping for kicks. However, his junior year he started to notice he was a pretty good long snapper.

In junior college and now at WSU, he focused on long snapping as his primary position. But until he made the permanent switch, he didn’t realize how little credit or recognition a long snapper gets.

“It really got to me when I started long snapping,” Gravelle said. “I just got out here and started snapping, and no one said ‘Good job,’ or ‘Good snap,’ but they’d always make sure to say, ‘That wasn’t a good snap.’”

Gravelle watched film in order to improve, reached out to others on Facebook. He also sought out former WSU and Buffalo Bills kicker Rian Lindell when Lindell visited WSU for spring ball this year. Gravelle is from Niagara, and he grew up a Bills fan.

“Lindell texted the Bills’ long snapper Garrison Sanborn for me and I got a little information from him on how to get that good snap and do the best you can out there,” Gravelle said.

When I spoke to Gravelle, it didn’t sound like anything could really get to him. But then I asked how he feels about the lack of respect the national media gives to college and professional special teamers like the long snapper, punter and kicker.

“It really gets to me when I hear that we’re not football players, or ‘All you do is kick, you’re just a kicker,’ and I can say to a wide receiver ‘all you do is run routes and catch a ball,’” he said. “I honestly think that just working on one craft, it’ll get to you mentally because if you mess up a little bit it’ll throw you off.

“You only get so many chances to go out (as a long snapper). If you go out three times and mess up one time, everyone’s going to know about that one time. But if you’re a wide receiver and you have 100 plays, and you mess up five, nobody’s going to see that,” Gravelle said.

Plenty of fans know about the holder wanting to put the ‘laces out’ when it comes to kicking.  But many are unaware the long snapper has a large effect on whether that happens or not.

“It’s about the distance between the holder and me, last year I didn’t quite get it down,” Gravelle said. “This spring, I’ve had perfect laces almost every time, and I think it’s just about following through, and getting your hands and flicking the ball.”

Knowing your holder is also key. Gravelle says he needs to be able to fire the ball at a good height and position for the holder to grab, and not all holders are the same size. The Cougars had two holders last year, Kaleb Fossum and River Cracraft.

“Yes, it definitely does. River is taller than Kaleb, so his body is up higher, so that will make me have a high snap,” he said. “When Kaleb holds I know where he likes to catch it, I know where his hands will be, I know how he sits. But whenever somebody else is back there, I throw it back as if Kaleb was there.”

Come this fall, when Erik Powell line up for a field goal, I’ll watch and appreciate what Gravelle does -- just as much as Powell does in making the kick.

Gravelle transferred to Washington State in January of 2015 out of Erie Community College in Buffalo. He prepped at Wheatfield High in Niagara, New York.

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